How hysterical parents, incompetent therapists and malicious prosecutors destroyed the lives of
seven innocent North Carolinians – and have yet to admit they were wrong

“And When Did You Last See Your Father?” by William Frederick Yeames, 1878, depicting English Puritan inquisitors grilling the child of a Royalist family

“And When Did You Last See Your Father?” by William Frederick Yeames, 1878, depicting English Puritan inquisitors grilling the child of a Royalist family


Will a court pay attention?

April 13, 2021

If I had harbored even an iota of doubt about Junior Chandler’s innocence, it would’ve been vaporized by the podcast episode below.

Most dramatically, the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic’s meticulously assembled “Impossibility Exhibit” demonstrates that Junior was nowhere near the scene of his imaginary crimes….

But is the court paying attention?


Today’s random selection from the Little Rascals Day Care archives….


Seeking corroboration isn’t disrespectful – it’s useful

141210TalbotDec. 10, 2014

“More than a decade ago, I wrote about the McMartin preschool case, and other satanic ritual child abuse accusations that turned out to be false. Back then, the slogan many supporters of the accusations brandished was, ‘Believe the Children.’ It was an antidote to skepticism about real claims of child abuse, just as today, ‘Believe the Victims’ is a reaction to a long history of callous oversight of rape accusations.

“ ‘Believe the Victims’ makes sense as a starting presumption, but a presumption of belief should never preclude questions. It’s not wrong or disrespectful for reporters to ask for corroboration, or for editors to insist on it. Truth-seeking won’t undermine efforts to prevent campus sexual assault and protect its victims; it should make them stronger and more effective.”

– From “Reporting on Rape” by Margaret Talbot at (Dec. 7)

Given the prosecution’s strategic secrecy, the pursuit of corroboration in the Little Rascals case presented an enormous challenge. But news coverage could been far more skeptical and revealing – perhaps even game-changing. The editor of the News & Observer certainly thought so.

N.C. justices to Junior Chandler: Drop dead

121005Chandler2Oct. 5, 2012

Because today’s North Carolina Supreme Court decision on Junior Chandler’s appeal comprised three separate parts, I didn’t fully comprehend it.

“Is this good news or bad?” I emailed Mark Montgomery, Junior’s appellate lawyer.

“The worst,” he replied. “We’re out of court.”

Yes, this is the worst – the absolute, inexcusable, shameful worst.

The justices have denied Junior Chandler, probably the last still-imprisoned victim of the multiple-offender, multiple-victim ritual-abuse day-care panic, his final chance for a new trial. After 25 years behind bars – more than all the Little Rascals defendants combined! – he faces only more of the same.

If I were a lawyer, maybe I could understand how the North Carolina Supreme Court arrived at its decision.

How it was unmoved by Junior’s feeble representation early on.

How it was uninterested in the epochal progress made in limiting expert testimony.

How it was all too eager to find petty justifications for validating a prosecution rotten at the core.

But probably not.

The limits of ‘unequivocal and undeniable evidence’

130401FestingerApril 1, 2013

“Suppose an individual believes something with his whole heart; suppose further that he has a commitment to this belief, that he has taken irrevocable actions because of it; finally, suppose that he is presented with evidence, unequivocal and undeniable evidence, that his belief is wrong; what will happen?

“The individual will frequently emerge, not only unshaken, but even more convinced of the truth of his beliefs than ever before….”

– From “When Prophecy Fails” by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken and Stanley Schachter (1956)

The three social psychologists studied the refusal of a cult of UFO believers to accept that their belief in an imminent apocalypse had been proven false. Seth Mnookin usefully dusts off this case in “The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science and Fear,” his 2011 expose of the groundless claim that childhood vaccination causes autism.

Before the day-care ritual-abuse mania ran its course, its theorists and trophy hunters clung ever more tightly to a belief system with no rational means of support. Long after the phoniness of the Little Rascals prosecution had become clear to the world, Nancy Lamb managed to conjure up an unrelated abuse charge against Bob Kelly. And even today

Steinem made case for believing the unbelievable

150901SteinemSept. 1, 2015

 “(As witnesses) children are even less likely to be believed when their stories involve extremes of sadism, collusion among families and communities (sometimes extending over several generations) and so-called ritual or cult abuse – including the torture and killing of animals to frighten children into silence – that are so terrible that authorities decide these things just can’t be true.

“Yet many instances of such ‘incredible’ crimes are documented, sometimes by adults after years of suppressed memory, sometimes by authorities who are now beginning to believe children enough to investigate their stories…..”…

– From “Revolution From Within: A Book of Self-Esteem” by Gloria Steinem (1993)

Steinem’s semi-autobiography was a best-seller, both profiting from and contributing to the nation’s heightened concern with self-esteem.

In addition to using Ms. magazine to tout the existence of “ritual abuse,” she also helped finance the search for the imaginary McMartin tunnels.

McCrory fosters NC’s own costly moral panic

Ben R. Williams

Ben R. Williams

May 29, 2016

“It’s easy to whip people into a frenzy over a moral panic (such as ‘satanic ritual abuse’ in the 1980s). All you do is tell people there’s a vast segment of humanity that wants to prey on their children. You tell them that these predatory people aren’t like us – they’re outsiders with different values. And you make sure that the talking heads on TV keep the story alive.

“Is it possible that a moral panic could happen today?

“Just ask Gov. Pat McCrory, who has cost his state millions of dollars defending a law that allegedly protects North Carolina children from transgender bathroom-goers – a statewide crisis that suddenly popped into existence during an election year, conveniently enough.

“Moral panics still exist, and they’re still absurd. The only difference is, they’re a lot more expensive than they were back in the ’80s.”

– From “History warns us to beware of ‘moral panic’ ” by Ben R. Williams in the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin (May 27)


DA acknowledges junk science in arson conviction

Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson

Dec. 17, 2015

“Three men convicted of murder by arson for a 1980 fire in Brooklyn (were) exonerated on Wednesday….

“What carried the three men into prison was not reliable evidence of an intentionally set blaze, but rather an arson investigation that was more like shamanism than science, rooted in hunches and folklore and disconnected from the dynamics of actual fires. Like the comparisons of bite marks, hair and handwriting, it was a forensic practice that had the authority of white-coat laboratory science but virtually none of its rigor….”

– From “Between Guilt and Innocence, an Evolution in Fire Science
by Jim Dwyer in the New York Times (Dec. 16)

Hats off to District Attorney Ken Thompson, who moved to vacate the three convictions, citing “circumstantial evidence, outdated science and the testimony of a single, wholly unreliable witness….”

Columnist Dwyer is reminded of a statue at the University of Pennsylvania Law School depicting a mythological Chinese beast believed to have the ability to tell the guilty from the innocent by butting them. Inscribed on its base: “Slow and painful has been man’s progress from magic to law.”

“Slow and painful” indeed. Ask Junior Chandler, who has been imprisoned since April 17, 1987, for committing the magical crime of “satanic ritual abuse.”

Three jurors blamed stresses for verdict they regretted

Roswell Streeter

Roswell Streeter

June 24, 2016

“I was a juror on the Edenton Little Rascals sex abuse case, and I heard all the facts.

“During eight months of testimony I heard no evidence to prove that Bob Kelly was guilty of any charge. I did hear children, parents and grandparents say that they believe sex abuse took place at the day care. I heard children talk about bizarre things that were supposed to have happened at the day care and other places (often being reminded by the prosecution). I heard parents say they believe sex abuse took place at the day care.

“I also heard the same parents talk about their child’s normal behavior and how they noticed no abnormalities and that their children were fine and that they didn’t believe the allegations. I also heard how children asked parents why the day care closed and stated how they liked Mr. Bob and Mrs. Betsy.

“I feel it’s very important that readers know what was going on in Edenton at the time of the allegations. We know what was said in court 2 1/2 years later. Do you ever wonder what the evidence would have been if the case went to trial six months after allegations? Well, I don’t have to wonder. Other than the evidence lost or destroyed, I heard it all, and I’ll say this to the last day of my life, that the evidence that came through the courtroom did not prove that Bob Kelly committed any kind of sex abuse.

“To the grandmother who feels jurors made fools of themselves for appearing on ‘Frontline’ to try and tell the world the truth about the Little Rascals sex abuse case, then so be it.”

Roswell Streeter

– From “Court evidence did not prove Kelly guilty,” letter to the editor of the Greenville (N.C.) Daily Reflector (Sept. 3, 1993)

Forty-five days earlier, Streeter and four other jurors had appeared on “Innocence Lost: The Verdict,” revealing to Ofra Bikel how they came to vote guilty.

From the “Frontline” web page: “Of the five jurors interviewed, only two were fully comfortable with the verdict they had issued. In both cases, it was the children’s testimony that had convinced them. The other three jurors were troubled and said they regretted their verdict and had serious doubts about Bob Kelly’s guilt. Two jurors, Mary Nichols and Marvin Shackelford, said that worries about their personal health (Shackelford had had two heart attacks, and Mary Nichols was very ill with leukemia) had driven them to vote guilty just to resolve the endless deliberations and go home. Roswell Streeter, who at 28 was the youngest member of the jury, said he felt intimidated and confused, and finally lost all sense of perspective.”

One of the two jurors who acknowledged no doubts about Kelly’s guilt was Dennis T. Ray, who wound up in court defending (not very persuasively) his own behavior.


Whatever happened to Kelly’s ex-lawyer? This….

131108BeanNov. 8, 2013

While we await Gov. McCrory’s decision on whether to promote Nancy Lamb to district attorney, another key figure in the Little Rascals prosecution is stepping aside.

From the Elizabeth City Daily Advance:

EDENTON – Judge Chris Bean, chief district court judge in the 1st Judicial District, does not plan to seek re-election to another term.

Bean, who has been a judge for more than two decades, said recently he plans to step down when his current term ends in December 2014.

“I have been doing this for 20-some years,” Bean said. “It has been a fascinating career.”

Unmentioned by Judge Bean (or by the Advance, which seems to have purged Little Rascals from its memory)  is his deeply prejudicial testimony against former client Bob Kelly.

Bean and Lamb have continued to share an immunity to just consequences. (Compare the enormity of the Little Rascals prosecution with the penny-ante misconduct that typically brings about disbarment in North Carolina.)

Only their innocent victims – the Edenton Seven, the child witnesses – paid a price, and it was a high one indeed.

MPD renamed DID – but it’s still bunk

May 31, 2013

“After the DSM-III, often called the ‘Bible’ of psychiatric diagnosis, included (Multiple Personality Disorder) in 1980, thousands of spurious cases emerged in the next two decades, and special psychiatric clinics arose to treat them. Yet faced with evidence of this disastrous epidemic, the DSM-IV did not delete the diagnosis. Instead, the manual renamed it Dissociative Identity Disorder.

“ ‘MPD presented a dilemma for me,’ says (psychiatrist Allen Frances, who oversaw DSM-IV). ‘We took scrupulous pains to present both sides of the controversy as fairly and effectively as possible – even though I believed one side was complete bunk.’ How do you ‘fairly’ argue for a diagnosis you think is complete bunk? Where’s the methodological rigor? Why did it take malpractice suits to close the psychiatric MPD clinics and not the presumed voice of scientific authority, the DSM? Dissociative Identity Disorder remains in the DSM-5.”

– From “How Psychiatry Went Crazy” by Carol Tavris in the Wall Street Journal (May 17, 2013)

“Another disturbing by-product of the MPD diagnosis is the prevalence of alleged repressed memories of satanic ritual abuse. The association of satanic ritual abuse in MPD diagnoses has been attributed to the belief by numerous MPD adherents in the existence of an intergenerational satanic cult conspiracy that has murdered thousands without leaving a trace of evidence.”

– From “Repressed Memory, Multiple Personality Disorder and Satanic Ritual Abuse,” an amicus brief filed in Supreme Court of Georgia, Kahout v. Charter Peachford Behavioral Health System (September 1998)

Day-care prosecutors ‘become like a torturer’

Aug. 17, 2012

“I’ve wondered how the prosecutors (in ritual-abuse day-care cases) could live with themselves.

“Says Debbie Nathan (coauthor of “Satan’s Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt”): ‘There was a time – and it lasted eight or nine years – when there was an entire body of expert opinion that these things could happen.’ It was a time, she says, when pseudoscience had raced ahead of science, when best-selling books that had yet to be contradicted asserted that the inability to remember a trauma was the strongest proof of it, when doctors trying to be helpful established as a baseline a model virginal hymen so perfectly smooth and shaped that it allowed any actual hymen to be construed as traumatized.

“ ‘Our culture is still really atavistic,’ says Nathan, ‘but there’s an overlay of science on it. Mix the totally primeval stuff with science and you’ve got this mix that can’t be beat.’ Prosecutors, she says, ‘are just as naive as anyone else, but they also know how to sway people. They have all the techniques down pat. “Suffer the little children.” “Innocence defiled.” “Worse than murder.” ‘

“But why, as science and truth become clearer, is it so hard for so many prosecutors to recant?…  ‘Maybe it’s because the whole process of constructing one of these innocent people as a really demonically evil sexual pervert who sadistically violates lots of kids – the whole process of constructing this character on a real person is torture. You have to be very invasive. It’s a very sadistic enterprise. You become like a torturer.’ ”

– From “Why Can’t They Admit They Were Wrong?” by John Conroy
in the Chicago Reader (Aug. 1, 2003)

Journalists, too, suffer ‘incurable blind spots’

Jan. 4, 2012

120104Pendergrast“A few years back, I met a fellow investigative journalist in North Carolina….The subject came around to the Little Rascals case. He assured me the day care workers were guilty….

“I told him about how the McMartin case in California had been the first nationally publicized case to use interviews that practically bullied children into reporting mythical, often totally implausible abuse. Little Rascals was a textbook case of the same kind of tactics, and Ofra Bikel’s three fine documentaries left no doubt about this terrible miscarriage of justice.

“Yet my friend refused to listen to any other evidence or point of view. It transpired that his wife had recovered ‘memories’ of sexual abuse – another subject on which he would hear no other evidence….

“I tell you this just to let you know I am familiar with cases in which otherwise objective journalists develop seemingly incurable blind spots.”

–  From a 1997 letter to Columbia Journalism Review by Mark Pendergrast, author of “Victims of Memory,” challenging criticism of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation

McMartin therapy victim: ‘I lived in fabricated fear’

140312HabermanFeb. 5, 2015

“I was involved in this (McMartin Preschool) case. I remember getting dropped off at court-ordered therapy. I don’t remember the sessions, but I have seen the macabre pictures I drew. I have read the accounts the therapist wrote down for me as I detailed the abuse.

“It is my belief, after years of treatment centers and therapy, that nothing physical happened to me…. Mentally, well, that’s a different story. How about paying attention to the kids that were scarred from this therapy? Do you think that just because there was most likely no physical abuse that we didn’t still suffer? Eating disorders, alcoholism, depression, anxiety….

“I lived in fabricated fear. I have a vivid memory of one teacher telling us that she would come to our house in the middle of the night and shoot our parents if we ever told them what happened. This memory, which I now assume was a dream, was the one thing that kept me questioning for years whether or not this happened. So, while I now believe that the memories were unintentionally implanted, I still lived the nightmare through stories and drawings…”

– From “The Trial That Unleashed Hysteria Over Child Abuse” in the New York Times (March 9, 2014)  

Although I linked to Clyde Haberman’s thorough and perceptive piece when it appeared, I’m just now noticing that among the 166 reader comments was this one above from a “therapy…scarred” McMartin child. Unfortunately, it was posted anonymously – so continues the long wait for now-grown child-witnesses (other than Kyle Zirpolo) ready to go public with their recollections.

Echoes of Little Rascals in 2014 race for DA

140715LambSideways1July 15, 2014

Here’s the big picture from the latest campaign finance reports filed with the State Board of Elections:

Individual contributions to Nancy Lamb are almost double those to incumbent Andrew Womble ($29,821.54 to $15,571.80).

More provocative, however, are the details.

It’s not surprising that Lamb’s donors include such loyal Little Rascals alumnae as parents Jane Mabry ($50) and Lynne Layton ($250) and therapist Judith Abbott ($200).

But at least one member of the prosecutorial alliance seems to have defected: Yes, that’s Lamb’s former boss, H.P. Williams Jr., pitching in $250 to her opponent’s campaign.

‘Understanding and Assessing’ ritual-abuse mythology

May 28, 2012

How would Bruce A. Robinson, founder of the comprehensive and widely respected, describe the credibility now given ritual abuse?

“I am unaware of any child psychologist or similar specialist who still believes ritual abuse happened in child care facilities. I think there is a consensus that repeated direct questioning of young children will get them to reveal stories about events that never happened. Over time, these stories often become ‘memories.’ ”

Mr. Robinson, meet Kathleen Coulborn Faller, professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan.

As previously noted, Dr. Faller in “Understanding and Assessing Child Sexual Maltreatment” (second edition, 2003) identifies herself as a true believer. Here’s how she makes her case:

■ “Responses to allegations of ritual abuse have undergone a transformation in the last 10 years, so that any case… elicits great skepticism. In fact, it is no longer au courant to believe in the existence of ritual abuse.”

Au courant? Does she really consider scientific research into children’s testimony to be some kind of fad, like pet rocks?

■ “The vigor of the attack against ritual abuse… reinforces the belief of some professionals, myself included, that there is substance to ritual abuse….”

What!? And where are these other professionals?

■ “Ultimately the backlash… resulted in the reversal of some criminal convictions involving ritual abuse (New Jersey v. Michaels, 1994; North Carolina v. Kelly, 1995)… ”

In fact, these convictions were overthrown not because public and professional opinion had begun to shift, but because their many legal defects were obvious to appeals courts.

● ● ●

I’ve again asked Dr. Faller to respond.

Texas physician, DA show how to admit injustice

140108KellerJan. 8, 2014

“Among the atrocities that Frances and Dan Keller were supposed to have committed while running a day care center out of their Texas home: drowning and dismembering babies in front of the children; killing dogs and cats in front of the children; transporting the children to Mexico to be sexually abused by soldiers in the Mexican army; dressing as pumpkins and shooting children in the arms and legs; putting the children into a pool with sharks that ate babies; putting blood in the children’s Kool-Aid; cutting the arm or a finger off a gorilla at a local park; and exhuming bodies at a cemetery, forcing children to carry the bones.

“It was frankly unbelievable – except that people, most importantly, a Texas jury, did believe the Kellers had committed at least some of these acts. In 1992, the Kellers were convicted of aggravated sexual assault on a child and each sentenced to 48 years in prison….

“(Today) after multiple appeal efforts and 21 years in prison, the Kellers are finally free….

“The doctor who provided the only physical evidence that any sexual assault had taken place recanted his testimony. Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg agreed that their conviction should be overturned, allowing the Kellers to be released while their appeals move through the courts….

“Their release may also finally mark the end to one of the strangest, widest-reaching, and most damaging moral panics in America’s history.”

– From “The Real Victims of Satanic Ritual Abuse” by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie at

What a day-brightener – spotting McRobbie’s thorough tracking of the Fran and Dan case atop Slate magazine’s home page.

Yes, miracles do happen – a Texas doctor recanting his testimony, and a DA agreeing the convictions should be overturned.

But as long as Junior Chandler remains imprisoned in North Carolina, it’s way too soon to “finally mark the end” to the ritual abuse panic.